*Warning: Spoilers for The Follower… read at your own discretion*
If you are a reader that loves social media and mystery, this is an incredible book for you! Kate Doughty, author of The Follower, puts a spin off in her mystery that goes from influencer fame all the way to internet exploitation. The Follower is a story on the Coles’ family that have to rely on internet fame as influencers to scrape by on expenses. Their account is known for renovating old homes and, in addition, contains makeup tutorials and fitness tips. The next house they renovate, 976 Tremont, has a history of tragic incidents, which becomes a threat once weird things begin happening throughout the book. There is so much I could talk about, and this review only scratches the surface! This is my final book review with Abrams Publishing for Her Campus and was the longest of all the others I have read. The story flows slower, but the details are concise and important for the end.
One of the biggest disappointments reading this book was figuring out who the follower or killer was. I understand that every horror/mystery trope book needs enough suspense to figure out who the “bad guy” is; however, I felt as if there were not enough clues at all. I asked Doughty in her interview through Abrams’ Mary Marolla, if there were more clues I missed. When I read back, there was only one line the killer repeated to Rudy, who was figuring out the mystery: “quite the investigator.”
Doughty: Finding a balance between foreshadowing and keeping the reader in suspense is one of the trickiest aspects of any plot twist! Ideally, you want the reader to know who the killer is just before the main characters do on the first read, and you want the reader to go back for a second read and see all the little clues and be like, ‘man, why didn’t I see this?’ It’s also a fun line to walk when you have protagonists actively trying to figure out the mystery—it’s a lot like playing chess against yourself! For me, one of the ways to do that was to give clues about the killer’s true identity not through the facts that the Coles discovered pointing towards her, but through her actions and reactions to plot developments as the Coles tried to outwit her.
Unfortunately, I still have millions of questions that are unasked. I never understood how Officer Perry got away with living in the attic unnoticed. Was it possible that the house’s realtor knew all along?
In addition to this, I wrote to Doughty how the family of the Coles’ trusted others so easily. It would’ve been a much more interesting plot twist if the friends, Bella or Jada, were one of the killers. These two had the inside scoop of who the Coles’ really were behind the cameras, being that they were their only friends. The Coles’ moved around constantly for new renovations to continue making revenue.
Doughty’s interview answers were straight to the point of the book, which I appreciated. She said she “crafted” The Follower’s story through Abrams Publishing itself, which makes me wonder how much of a say as an author she had.
Doughty: I wrote this novel on commission for Abrams, my publisher. This means that Abrams developed the plot and owns the intellectual property rights, so they will be the ones making the call on whether or not another book gets written—so the announcement of a sequel will be just as a surprise to me as it is to you!
I believe Doughty’s portrayal of this generation on social media is accurate based on my own personal experiences. As a small business owner, myself, I was impressed she got so detailed to the point of influencers asking to expose products for something free of charge. She explained to me she finds it interesting that influencers today are able to monetize their internet fame, and also how it’s “lucrative.”
Doughty: I’ve definitely been offered jobs that paid with ‘exposure’—and all too often you hear about x influencer trying to pay for goods and services with clout when they should by paying in actual money, so it was fun to put a little dig about that in the book.
This is just one of the ways exploitation is portrayed in The Follower, however. The biggest internet exploitation in the story is the town tragedy. There were so many deaths in the house’s history, including Alex Grables, his mom, and another similar tragedy just a few years before the Coles’ arrived. The history made the house suddenly significant, and many people wanted to preserve its original look. Kids in the high school would sneak into the property when no one lived there on dares, and it was the town’s “spooky haunted house” etc. When the Coles’ arrived and learned more, they even started a haunted house series online to keep their views up. An account named “Alex_Grables,” under the name of who died, began interacting on their account creating a hype of untrust with their followers.
I do not believe many of the family’s actions were right nor just. Rudy painted the wall just to make the follower on the account angry, and that was wrong, not just because it was petty, but because the town was most likely following the account, and it upset a majority. The family’s image to the town was a rich, out of place family changing a historically significant house in the town. From the family’s point of view though, they were only thinking about the follower and by the end, protecting themselves. This, especially after Bella’s death, only escalated.
Another way The Follower demonstrates exploitation is the family itself. While the Coles relied on the sponsorship money, it blew my mind how the mom pushed the kids to always post on social media. Personally, my own mom has a hard time using social media, and this was an idea I couldn’t even fathom her pushing me to do. Not only that, but when a conflict came across to punish her kids, she knew she could not take away the social media because that was their livestock. What is interesting to me, however, was when Rudy’s account privileges were taken away, he seemed to be happiest. The Follower does make a point, I think, that everyone should take a break from social media and focus on their mental health.
Doughty: The theme of exploitation and how that interacts with social media—both with influencers and their followers—is something that you can approach from so many different angles and through so many different lenses.
In this book we have, of course, the Coles taking advantage of a spooky house and a town tragedy for views, and on the other side of that conflict there’s the children being exploited by their parents a little bit, in that strange dynamic that comes with being breadwinning, teenage internet stars. I find family channels to be a little terrifying and a little fascinating—what happens when those kids don’t want to be on the internet anymore, yet are still a part of the family’s income? And then, of course, there’s that double-edged sword where the Coles are selling their personalities on social media—to us, the followers, the influencers and the content they create are the product, right? But what happens when someone wants to change? That can put a lot of strain on a lot of relationships.
For this reason, I voiced that the Coles’ family reminded me of the real-life D’amelio family on Tik-Tok. I asked about the scene where the Coles’ remember an old post they made on their peanut allergies, something that came to endanger them that the follower used against them.
Doughty: That kind of oversharing is part of so many people’s lives and will become a larger and larger part as the young kids growing up with the internet get older. There are all these instances of something people have posted coming back to bite them, or of influencers doxing themselves and their addresses just by filming around their homes. Having so many of those personal details out there does lend a bit of a thriller/horror element to this book, and it was a fun thing to be able to mine.
This topic also reminds me of old offending videos that pop up years after an influencer grows fame and their fanbase “cancels” them. This creates a cancel culture, which The Follower also depicts. Even though I did not ask about this to Doughty, cancel culture is so relevant today when an influencer becomes famous. Sometimes I think people will go out of their way to find these details just to cancel someone for whatever reason. I also think The Follower demonstrates cancel culture by containing random pages with various fan comments. Some go from “Rudy is so hot” all the way to “Profiting off of tragedy. SHAMEFUL.”
Finally, The Follower has very strong character dynamics in the sense they were very developed, and each member represents something different.
Doughty: I thought it would be fun to use the triplets to show different sides of social media culture—you have Cecily, who deals a lot with the pressure of having to look perfect all of the time; Amber, who is having a bit of a body-positive awakening and emerging from behind the scenes; and finally, Rudy, who goes from being the main, charismatic ‘host’ to being disillusioned with the whole influencer lifestyle.
These different character dynamics became more interesting to me than the plot itself sometimes. This picture-perfect family had real-life problems behind the scenes, including a gambling problem. The Follower was just an additional add-on conflict.
The first Cole sibling is Cecily, representing the “perfect” internet star image, and anything below was not good enough. She actually did love what she was posting: make-up tutorials and representing brands and sponsors. However, she wanted to do more with it, including sharing how makeup was made versus vegan brands. In addition to this, she wanted to break away from the family account. She keeps this a secret throughout the story, however, because she understands from the get-go it would be frowned upon.
The next sibling Cole, who I LOVED reading about was Amber. While Amber was the family’s “behind the scenes” girl, she portrayed not only the LGBTQ+ community in the story, but body positivity online. Most of her posts online were “body positive” because she was described as “bigger.” However, as I was reading, many positive comments on the feed that were shown mentioned “thick.” By this, I wonder how this character really looked. This could be so overdone online, and by the end of the reading, I did not believe she was overweight at all, but just “bigger” than “perfect” Cecily. This is a statement on weight that needs to be changed that anything bigger than the perfect size is wrong. Her dynamic changed the most. She grows more confidence throughout the book and literally THRIVES. I was so happy for her! Her weight, even to the family, was considered a taboo topic to mention. Her own family made her feel self-conscious and I felt the most empathy reading her character.
The last Cole family sibling is Rudy. Rudy was the most investigative character in the story, and while I did believe he wanted to find out everything because he was concerned for his family, there was definitely another part of him that liked the game aspect of it. Rudy was the “jock” of the family, sharing fitness related content, but behind the scenes, he was more into music and mysteries. He was not my favorite character for the reason being I did not think there was anything about him memorable, however, if it were not for him, the follower would not have been discovered.
Doughty: I really enjoyed writing about Amber—she (and so many amazing influencers today!) are the body positive icons that I wish were around when I was in middle and high school. At the beginning of the novel, she’s stuck doing all this behind-the-scenes work, but we really get to watch her grow into herself and find her self-confidence as the book goes on. I love that body positivity is growing on social media, and I think it’s even more important now that filters and photo editing are more accessible than it ever has been.
One of the key things about Cecily was the pressure to be inhumanly beautiful that so many people online face. Like the rest of the Coles, she has a complicated relationship with social media where it’s her livelihood, but the pressure to make the kind of content that gets views is also limiting in a lot of ways It was important to me that this book wasn’t a ‘social media is bad and no one should be an influencer,’ kind of morality tale, but rather one that looks at the medium as a growing part of life that more and more kids have to deal with.
At one point, the team behind this book did consider including an LGBTQIA+ aspect to Rudy’s character, but it wasn’t something that we were able to fully explore within our deadlines. If the publisher decides to continue the series, perhaps Rudy’s journey could be something to expand on in other books.
I had no prior knowledge The Follower was written on commission, but after a recent interview with Abrams Marolla, I have come to the knowledge the 976 Tremont is based on a real-life spooky house story. However, I do not believe it has a correlation to Doughty’s story itself.
Doughty wrote a fictional story on a tragic house but portrayed real-life conflicts implemented from social media. I think it’s very realistic for people to put fake smiles on their faces when they are truly struggling. I admired the “3 A’s” mentioned at the beginning: attractive, aspirational and authentic. The Follower portrays exploitation in numerous ways, influencer stereotypes, horror tropes and trust. I had a slower time while reading it, personally, but I highly recommend it for opening my eyes to fame through social media, and that some celebrities may actually rely on it.